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"And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." - John 8:32
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Author:  Larry Simoneaux
Bio: Larry Simoneaux
Date:  May 16, 2010
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Topic category:  Other/General

Reach out and write someone.

I was rummaging around in my closet the other night and I came across a fountain pen that I’d received long ago as a graduation present. I’d used it for years whenever I was away to write letters - some of which are likely floating around in my wife’s closet. All of which started me thinking about letters.

Remember letters? Real letters? The ones we used to get from our families, friends, and relatives?

Remember when we used to sit down and actually write each other?

Remember when births, illnesses, deaths, declarations of love, or just the thoughts and feelings of a moment were put down on a piece of paper and mailed to someone we cared about?

I do, and I miss them, because they're just about gone.

To my way of thinking, letters are still the best thing you'll find in a mailbox. To this day, I sort my mail by pulling out any personal letters to be read immediately. The rest - bills, advertisements, flyers, etc. - are stacked on the kitchen counter in the hope that they might just disappear.

Letters, you see, were a tangible sign that someone cared. They said that, for a few moments, someone who knew you took the time to sit down and "talk" to you and only you.

As I said, they’re pretty much gone because, these days, speed is everything. Not many have the time to write any more and, because of that, letters have become an anachronism. E-mail is the closest thing to a letter, but it lacks something - if only the personal touch of a person’s unique handwriting.

Greeting cards are still sent, but they’re a poor substitute for letters. Often, they’re just random niceties. Manufactured feelings. Instantaneous sentiment. And, as for texting or twittering, just forget about it.

In our world, letters have become virtually extinct because they aren’t easy. They require effort. They require the setting aside of time. They require a bit of bother.

But what did that “bit of bother” mean?

A lot, actually. Just ask anyone who's ever been been away for a long time what they treasured most from back home.

Phone calls were nice but, once you hung up, it was over. All of those electrons that made up the voices went back to wherever electrons go and, literally, left you standing there - holding the phone.

Not so with a letter. They were tangible. They were physical links. Letters lasted. They didn’t go away. They could be put away in trunks and taken out years later to remind us how silly and serious and happy and hurt and in love we once were.

Letters didn’t even have to be mailed to have an impact.

At the beginning of Ken Burns’ documentary on the Civil War, a letter written by Major Sullivan Ballou to his wife Sarah is read. If you can come away from hearing the words in that long-ago letter unmoved, you’re simply not human.

Letters could be passed on to introduce children and grandchildren to long-departed members of their family. They put voices to the pictures in the albums. They kept people alive in memories.

Letters allowed others to see if we were orderly and precise, happy or sad, witty or dull. They allowed us to express feelings, thoughts, and sentiments we might never have been able to express in person or over the phone because, often, such conversations didn't provide the time for us to think before we speak.

Letters gave us that time. The time we needed to put our thoughts and feelings in order so as to convey them in a precise and telling manner.

We've lost many things in our race to save time. In our search for the quick and easy - and I’m as guilty as most - we've almost forgotten the sure and solid.

"Reach out and touch someone" is a good slogan, but it'll never provide the quiet satisfaction of settling down and reading someone's thoughts passed to you in writing.

There's something eminently human about letters and I wish I could say that they’re going to make a comeback.

I doubt that will happen.

And we are, for sure, the poorer for it.

Larry Simoneaux

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Biography - Larry Simoneaux

Larry Simoneaux is a regular columnist for The Everett Herald in Washington state. He is a retired ship driver for the US Navy and NOAA.

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Copyright © 2010 by Larry Simoneaux
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